It IS NOT A CAR FOR THE faint of heart, the all-new Elemental Rp1. Designed and built by an amiable collection of mavericks from the UK, some ex-McLaren, some ex-Ford, it is unlike any other road car. And now, after a two-year gestation period, it is upon us-in full production form, complete with a beautifully finished carbonfibre tub at its core, a 2.0-litre Ford EcoBoost engine in its tail, and the sort of performance that even supercar drivers will have nightmares about.
It costs £98,700 in the UK ($165K plus taxes), has 240kW and weighs just 630kg with fluids. How quick is it? As yet, not even Elemental is sure. So far, the car has recorded a two-way 0-100km/h run of 2.7sec with 0-160km/h in 6.4sec. But that was on a car that still needed its mapping perfected. In reality, we’re talking sub-2.5sec to 100km/h and less than six seconds to 160km/h, with a top speed (who cares in a car like this anyway?) of around 275km/h. The driving position was very much the Rp1’s ground-zero moment, because that’s where Elemental began its quest to deliver “the fastest trackday car in the world by 2020”. Thus, you sit with your feet several inches above your backside, arms out stretched, with your back at an angle of around 45 degrees to the road. Much like in an F1 car, then.
Once the firm had got this aspect of the car right, all the rest fell neatly into place, apparently, including a quite phenomenally efficient aero package that, on the road, will give the Rp1 over 400kg of downforce. There are three engine options, all Ford EcoBoost units: a 1.0-litre, a 2.0-litre and – recently confirmed -the 2.3-litre from the Focus RS. It’s the middle unit that most customers have been going for so far, and that’s the one we have here. It gives the Rp1 a power-to-weight ratio of 381kW per tonne. In reality, though, it’s the torque-to-weight figure of 714Nm per tonne that gives the best indication of sheer pace. In the flesh, the Rp1 looks sensational, as if it’s been produced by a company that’s been honing its art for decades, not months.
Climb aboard and the first thing that hooks you is that driving position. You realise that your feet are pretty much at eye level and think ‘Hmm, this is different.’ In fact, the car feels very much like a single-seater, but with a lot more elbow room and a lovely clean view of the road ahead. To get the Rp1 moving requires no great skill: you fire it up, dip the clutch, give the engine some revs, then smoothly release the clutch and away you go, much like in a normal car. The gearbox is a sequential six-speed unit by Hewland with pneumatic actuators and a small carbonfibre paddleshifter either side of the steering wheel. The entire mechanism – though fully manual in practice – is operated by the main ECU so that the engine and gearbox are protected from erroneous shifts. It won’t let you blow the engine to pieces by downshifting when you shouldn’t, basically. Which is nice.
Once you’re on the move, no clutch is needed, and everything else about the Rp1 feels equally racing car from that moment onwards. The non-assisted steering is heavy-ish to begin with but fine above 15km/h, and its immediacy of response and the pure feel through the rim is delicious. It’s one of those cars that you steer with your brain rather than with your hands. But then, to be honest, that’s how the Rp1 feels on the move, full stop. Everything it does provides either a mild or very strong sense of amazement. The acceleration is borderline ridiculous, and you can alter its severity by scrolling through five engine maps: Road 1, Road 2, Track, Race 1 and Race 2.
In Road 1 the Rp1 already feels nutcase-fast but also quite reassuring, in as much as the traction control comes in early, and the boost is wound down a touch to provide a more manageable flow of torque. The madness goes up in a sliding scale from there onwards, until eventually in Race 2 the Rp1 feels like it wants to blow your eye balls out the back of your skull from the moment you breathe on the throttle. The best thing, though, is that this car, with its carbon tub and double wishbones front and rear (complete with adjustable Nitron dampers), has a chassis to match. Boy does it have the chassis to match. And the brakes, and the steering, and the gearchange.
At all speeds the Rp1 feels beautifully balanced, the front end display Inga bit more bite than the rear. Yet at no speed does it ever feel edgy in its handling. It flows across the ground in a way that only really well sorted cars do, and even when it lets go, it never does so in a ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ kind of way. It’s sharp but progressive in the way it relinquishes grip, so if you know what you’re doing you can play about with it without getting bitten. Given how much aerodynamic grip it generates, this makes the Elemental Rp1 very special indeed, even beside the best of the best in this rarefied class.